Static Site Generators – Developing Websites in Low-resource Condition

Despite the prominence of Content Management Systems such as WordPress, a relatively new approach to developing websites is growing in popularity – the “static site generator”. Static site generators reduce the technology needed to build, deploy and manage a website down to a very low level, making them suitable for use in ‘low resource conditions’, where a CMS (which is expensive to maintain, even if free to own) is not viable. These tools work with simple text files and templates to produce ‘static’ HTML webpages which can be served from any standard web server. As such, websites managed with these tools are very future-proof, and may be easily preserved or migrated to other platforms.

Static site generators are normally used in conjunction with Git – providing a free version control system (indeed the world’s most commonly used static site generator is Jekyll – popularised by GitHub which uses it to power GitHub Pages), and leverage the growing popularity of and support for Markdown, a very simple but effective markup language.

While static site generators may not be suitable for so-called ‘enterprise’ websites which require such features as complex user-management, they are a viable choice for websites where the number of contributors is likely to be smaller.

This presentation will introduce static site generators, briefly explaining how they work and discussing their advantages and disadvantages. The presentation will then go onto to describe how the website of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) has been converted to use a particular static site generator called Hugo. The DCMI website has been in continuous development for more than 20 years, so the challenges were numerous!

The presentation will conclude by making the case for considering static site generators as a solution where it makes sense to avoid the complexities of deploying and managing a CMS.